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79th Armoured Division
79th armoured division badge.jpg
Badge of the 79th Armoured Division
Active 14 August 1942 - 20 August 1945
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Specialised armoured
Size Division
Engagements Battle of Normandy
Battle of the Scheldt
Geilenkirchen salient
Rhine crossing
Elbe crossing,
Battle for the Roer Triangle
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Major General Sir Percy Hobart

The 79th Armoured Division was a specialist British Army armoured unit formed as part of the preparations for the Normandy invasion of 6 June 1944. The unit comprised armoured vehicles modified for specialist roles, intended to assist with the landing phase of the operation.

Contents

History

The unit was formed as a standard armoured formation, but in March 1943, it was about to be disbanded for lack of resources. Alan Brooke (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), however, foresaw the need for specialised armoured vehicles and offered its command to Major General Sir Percy Hobart. Hobart accepted on the understanding that the 79th would be an operational unit, not just a training and development one.

Hobart gave firm direction and the strange-looking tanks it developed and operated were known as Hobart's Funnies. They included tanks that floated, could clear mines, destroy defences, carry and lay bridges, and roadways - anything that would enable the invasion force to get ashore and break through the German defences. One less successful development was the Canal Defence Light a giant light intended to dazzle enemy gunners, although it was used to provide artificial daylight during the attack on the Geilenkirchen salient.

The Division also had the usual contingents of Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and other Army units attached. After formation in October 1942, the 79th, based at the time mostly in Yorkshire, trained as a regular armoured division for about six months before the change of role.

The Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, two Canadian units, the 1st Hussars and Fort Garry Horse and three American units joined for training on the DD tanks. In mid-1943 the Assault Brigade RE was formed: its units were the Assault Squadrons RE.

The unit did not operate as a single division, its vehicles were distributed as small units across the Divisions taking part in the landings and subsequent operations. Difficulties were encountered in persuading infantry commanders to use the specialised armour to best effect.

The Division was further used during the battle for the Roer Triangle (Operation Blackcock), the Rhine crossings (Operation Plunder) and the Elbe crossing to transport the assault troops and to re-supply.

The 79th Armoured Division was disbanded on 20 August 1945. Hobart later commanded the Specialised Armour Experimental Establishment.

Equipment Used

Sherman Crab under test. The flail has been lowered to work in a dip in the ground and the turret traversed to the rear to avoid the flails.
Churchill AVRE with fascine on tilt-forward cradle.
Churchill Ark Mk II.
Churchill Crocodile
Churchill AVRE with a bobbin and extended radiator intakes for wading.
Close-up of an AVRE's Petard Mortar.
Medics are attending to wounded in the shelter of a Churchill AVRE from 5th Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers - Sword Beach, 6th June 1944
Universal Carriers with deep wading screens pass through Lion sur Mer. A Churchill AVRE can be seen in the background, 6 June 1944.
A Priest Kangaroo A.P.C
Buffalo LVT 4 amphibious vehicles taking Canadians Across the Scheldt 1944.
DD Sherman tank with its flotation screen lowered.
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Sherman Crab

A mine flail is a vehicle-mounted device that makes a safe path through a mine-field by deliberately detonating mines in front of the vehicle that carries it. They were first used by the British during World War II in the North African Campaign. The Sherman Crab was a Sherman tank with a mine flail.

The mine flail consists of a horizontal, rapidly-rotating rotor mounted in front of the vehicle on two arms. Fist-sized steel balls are attached to the rotor by chains (flails). The rotor's rotation causes the flails to spin wildly and to continuously and violently strike the ground. The force of these strikes mimics a person or vehicle passing over the mines and causes them to detonate, but in a safe manner that does little damage to the vehicle, although the Flails had to be replaced on a regular basis as the explosions of mines broke the chains.

Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers)

A Churchill III or IV had a crew of six, and was armed with the Petard, a 290 mm Spigot mortar, which fired the 40 pound (18 kg) "Flying dustbin" with its 28 pound (13 kg) high explosive warhead to a practical effective range of 100 yards (90 metres). This round was an early bunker buster, designed to quickly destroy fortifications. The loader had to stick his head and torso out of the AVRE to reload the Petard.

The AVRE was designed after the Canadian failure at Dieppe, and could be equipped with numerous other attachments, such as mine plows, fascine bundles, carpet rollers, explosive placers, etc. It also carried Bangalore torpedos for clearing barbed wire obstacles, and hand-emplaced demolition charges.

After World War II the Churchill AVRE was re-armed with a breech loaded low velocity 165 mm demolition gun.

Churchill ARK (Armoured Ramp Karrier)

A turretless Churchill with ramps at either end and along the body to form a mobile bridge. The Mark 1 had trackways over the tracks for vehicles to drive along. The Mark 2 was an improvised version and crossing vehicles drove directly on the Churchill's tracks.

Churchill Crocodile

One of the more notable Churchill variants, the Crocodile was a Churchill VII in which the hull machine gun was replaced with a flamethrower. The fuel was in an armoured wheeled trailer towed behind. It could fire several 1 second bursts over 150 yards. The Crocodile was one of "Hobart's Funnies". A working example can still be seen at the Cobbaton Combat Collection in North Devon.[citation needed]

Kangaroo A.P.C.

The first Kangaroos were converted from M7 Priest self-propelled guns used by 50th Northumbrian, 3rd Canadian, and 3rd British Infantry Divisions during the assault on Normandy. These were no longer needed, as the artillery regiments were re-equipped with towed 25 pdr at the end of July. At a field workshop (codenamed Kangaroo, hence the name) they were stripped of the artillery equipment and the front aperture welded over, then sent into service carrying twelve troops. They were first used in Operation Totalize south of Caen and subsequently in Canadian attacks on the various Channel ports, operated by the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron. The Priests were subsequently returned to the US Army, and other vehicles used. The majority of vehicles converted were Canadian Ram tanks or Shermans and other Priests (which were sometimes referred to as "unfrocked" or "defrocked" Priests). The name Kangaroo was applied to any similar conversion. In Normandy they were operated by the 1st Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment (1CACR) and the 49th Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment under the 79th Armoured Division

Buffalo LVT 4

The first Buffalo LVTs could hold 24 men or 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg) of cargo. Originally intended to carry replenishments from ships ashore, they lacked armour protection and their tracks and suspension were unreliable when used on hard terrain.

Travelling at a respectable six knots in the water and twelve mph on land, it could deliver 24 fully-equipped assault troops to the beach, and supply supporting fire from two .30 cal. machine guns. The vehicle was not armoured and its thin steel hull offered virtually no protection. Tracks performed well on sand, but not on tough surfaces. Proper maintenance of the new machine was often an issue and early models suffered frequent breakdowns.

Duplex Drive Sherman Tank

DD tanks (for Duplex Drive, but nicknamed Donald Duck-tanks) were amphibious swimming tanks developed during the Second World War. The phrase is mostly used for the M4 Sherman medium tanks used by the Allies in the opening phases of the D-Day landings in 1944.

The swimming tank idea arose when it was realised that the first waves of infantry that reached an invasion beach would be acutely vulnerable without the support of tanks. But if landing craft were used to carry those tanks, they themselves would be vulnerable to German heavy guns. The loss of too many landing craft would slow the movement of reinforcements from ships offshore and the invasion beaches would be choked with disabled and sunken landing craft. By giving tanks the ability to float, they could be launched from landing craft several miles from the shore and make their own way onto the beach.

Canal Defence Light

The Canal Defence Light (CDL) was a British "secret weapon" of the Second World War.

It was based upon the use of a powerful carbon-arc searchlight to dazzle and confuse enemy troops. A demonstration had shown that the use of a vehicle mounted searchlight both disoriented the units facing it and masked activities behind the searchlight.

The searchlight was mounted in an armoured turret fitted to a tank. Initially the Matilda tank was used replacing its normal turret with a cylindrical one containing the searchlight (the light emitting through a vertical slit) and a machine gun. This was later replaced by the US M3 Grant which was superior in several ways; it was a larger roomier tank, better able to keep up with tanks such as the Sherman and it had a hull mounted gun which was unaffected by the replacement of its normal turret with the searchlight turret.

The light could be varied in two ways to further enhance any effect.

Addition of blue or amber filter would make the light source seem further away or closer respectively. the operation of a shutter would create a flickering effect. The project was shrouded in secrecy. It was tested during Exercise Primrose in 1943 at Kilbride Bay with the result that it was determined to be "too uncertain to be depended upon as the main feature of an invasion".

Component Units

The 79th was raised as a conventional armoured division, however during 1943 all the 'normal' elements of the division were transferred out to other formations, leaving only the specialised armour. During that year the divisional structure was very unsettled with brigades and regiments coming and going on a regular basis.

1st Assault Brigade, Royal Engineers

Formed on 1 November 1943, from the following Assault Regiments, which were already part of 79th Armoured Division.

  • 5th Assault Regiment, R.E. (from 27 April 1943)
  • 6th Assault Regiment, R.E. (from 27 April 1943)
  • 42nd Assault Regiment, R.E. (from 28 September 1943)

These three regiments were issued with Churchill AVRE.

27th Armoured Brigade

Attached to the 79th Armoured Division from 8 September 1942 until 20 October 1943.

These three regiments were issued with DD Tanks. This brigade - and therefore the DD Tanks - were not formally part of 79th Armoured Division on D-Day.

30th Armoured Brigade

Transferred in to the division on 17 October 1943.

These three regiments were issued with the Sherman Crab flail mine-clearing tanks from December 1943.

1st Tank Brigade

Transferred in to the Division in April 1944, taking over some of the units of 35th Tank Brigade.

These three regiments were issued with Canal Defence Light (CDL) tanks. These were exchanged later not having seen action.

35th Army Tank Brigade

Transferred in to 79th Armoured Division on 9 April 1943, and out of the Division in April 1944. Operated Canal Defence Light searchlight tanks

185th Infantry Brigade

Transferred out to 3rd British Infantry Division on 9 April 1943.

    • 2nd Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment
  • 1st Bn The Royal Norfolk Regiment

2nd Bn King's Own Shropshire Light Infantry

1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment

Equipped with Kangaroos. Formed in Normandy, early August 1944.

79th Armoured Division Signals

Operation Overlord

By D-Day the Division had settled down to the following organisation:

  • 79th Armoured Division Headquarters
  • 79th Armoured Division Signals
  • 79th Armoured Division REME
  • 79th Armoured Division RASC
  • 79th Armoured Division RAMC
  • 79th Armoured Division RAOC
  • 79th Armoured Division Provost
  • 1st Assault Brigade, R.E. (AVRE)
    • 149th Assault Park Squadron, RE
    • 5th Assault Regiment RE
      • 77th Assault Squadron, RE
      • 79th Assault Squadron, RE
      • 80th Assault Squadron, RE
      • 26th Assault Squadron, RE
    • 6th Assault Regiment RE
      • 81st Assault Squadron, RE
      • 82nd Assault Squadron, RE
      • 87th Assault Squadron, RE
      • 284th Assault Squadron, RE
    • 42nd Assault Regiment RE
      • 16th Assault Squadron, RE
      • 617th Assault Squadron, RE
      • 222nd Assault Squadron, RE
      • 557th Assault Squadron, RE

Operation Varsity

The Division in preparation for the Rhine Crossing now had more specialized armoured units, and the following order of battle shows the Division at probably its greatest strength.

See also

References

  • Keegan, John; Kenneth Macksey (1991). Churchill's Generals. London: Cassell. pp. 250–254. ISBN 0-304-36712-5. 
  • Hastings, Max (1999). Overlord. London: Pan. p. 396. ISBN 0-330-39012-0. 

External links



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